Changes meant to get Amber Alerts out more quickly and ensure they are as effective as they can be would become law under a bill in the House.
House Bill 697 would establish Hailey’s Law, named for 10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield, who was kidnapped and murdered in February, 2014.
About two-and-a-half hours passed after Owens’ abduction before an Amber Alert was issued in the case. Though it is now known that an earlier alert would not have saved her, the case prompted lawmakers and others to press for changes to make sure alerts would be issued faster.
The legislation known as “Hailey’s Law” has been offered before in the House but did not become law. Even so, the Highway Patrol has launched implementation of some of the system changes it would require, so that alerts would go out earlier and with fewer steps needed to issue them.
This year the bill is being carried by Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield), who said it’s still important to make sure those changes are required by law.
“I think everyone’s on the same page here, but we’re just trying to make sure that it’s in statute, it’s going to happen in a timely basis, and if systems change in the future that the continued integration will always be a part of that,” Trent said.
Jim Wood, the father of the man charged with abducting and killing Hailey Owens, urged members of the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety to advance HB 697.
“I reached out to [Hailey’s family] with a deep sense of grief for my own family, and a deep sense of compassion for Hailey Owens and her family,” said Wood. “It was two-and-a-half hours later before the Amber Alert was released,” Wood recalled of the events the day his son, he said, took Owens. “We all know if we look at child abductions that children are usually dead within 45-minutes. We need to fix this problem, and Hailey’s Law will enhance the Amber Alert system that will protect these children.”
HB 697 would also require that the Amber Alert System Oversight Committee meet annually to discuss potential improvements to the Amber Alert System.